Coleman and Navratilova on transwomen in sports: The International Olympic Committee has failed its mission

December 3, 2021 • 11:30 am

We all know Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest woman tennis players of history. Although she isn’t a “transphobe”, she’s opposed to transwomen competing in women’s sports, and hasn’t been afraid to say so. For that, of course, she’s been demonized and called a transphobe. She’s tried to decide about this issue based on science and not ideology; Wikipedia quotes her views from a BBC broadcast in 2019.

“The way I started this journey, I just wanted to see if there are any big surprises, any misconceptions that I had.

And what I think I have come to realise, the biggest thing for me, is just that the level of difficulty that trans people go through cannot be underestimated. The fight for equality and recognition is just huge. That being said, still, for me, the most important thing in sports… and you have to remember, trans rights and elite sports are two different things, although of course they are connected. What’s the right way to set rules so that everybody feels like they have a fighting chance? It feels to me that it is impossible to come to any real conclusions or write any meaningful rules until more research is done.

“But for now, I think we need to include as many transgender athletes as possible within elite sports, while keeping it as level a playing field as possible. Look, society has changed so much. Things evolve, things change and maybe I need to evolve, I need to change. The rules certainly need to evolve. If you don’t adapt, you’ve got problems. And so we’ll just keep adapting and try to find a happy way forward.”

These are not the words of a transphobe.

And science—or rather the lack thereof—is the topic of a piece she’s just published in Quillette with Doriane Coleman, identified as “a Professor of Law at Duke Law School, and a former professional track athlete.” Both women therefore have sports cred, and one has legal cred as well.

Before you say you’re not going to read anything in Quillette, realize that the site publishes worthwhile things, and to refuse to read an article because you disagree with other articles on the site seems to me a form of willful ignorance.

This article comes to no decision about the issue, but rather bemoans two things: the lack of science that might enable us to decide the circumstances under which transwomen (biological men who identify as women, and usually have had hormonal and surgical intervention to “transition”) should be allowed to compete in women’s sports.

Second, the authors decry the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) failure to take a lead in helping with these difficult issues. The IOC used to say that a transwoman could compete in women’s Olympics if they maintained a level of circulating testosterone below 10 nanomoles per liter for 12 months.

Recent research, however, has shown that this by no means levels the playing field (and “leveling” is itself a  contentious issue). First, 10 nmoles/liter is several times higher than the average titer of the hormone in biological women. Second, a year isn’t long enough. I’ve discussed research showing that even with a level below that, maintained via hormone therapy, a transwoman can retain athletic advantages over two years or longer. Most important, if you transition after puberty, the muscular and skeletal changes that accompany male puberty will stay with you for years and years, giving you a near-permanent advantage over biological women in sports.

While some say that this is a non-issue because transwomen are very rare, you have to realize that the exponential increase in the number of women in this genre will make the problem increasingly common in coming years.  It’s already subject to a lawsuit in Connecticut (where high school athletes just have to identify as women, without medical intervention, to compete as women), and we have the recent case of Lia Thomas , who competed as a male swimmer for three years at Penn, and then, after transitioning to female, suddenly broke all kinds of records.

Click the screenshot to read:

What happened is that the IOC has abandoned its previous hormone-based rule in favor of “guidelines” that give no guidance at all.  Coleman and Navratilova see both good and bad in this, but mostly bad, as it leaves us in limbo:

Last week, the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued updated, non-binding guidance in regard to the inclusion of transgender women and intersex athletes in the female category in elite competitive sports. This IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations is presented as a means to balance, on the one side, the right of every person to “practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety, and dignity” with, on the other, the need to protect “the credibility of competitive sport” by ensuring “no athlete has an unfair and disproportionate advantage over the rest.” Although the included principles were drafted “with the specific needs of high-level organized sports competitions in mind,” the IOC also urges that they be “promoted and defended at all levels of sport.”

The new framework contains some welcome elements. Most significantly: It affirms that fairness to the female field remains central to the category’s eligibility standards, and that establishing fairness is a matter of “evidence-based,” “robust,” and “peer-reviewed” scientific research. The principles also serve to encourage as much inclusion as possible within evidence-based bounds, a goal we wholeheartedly support. And the framework “replaces and updates” the 2015 IOC Consensus on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism, disliked by almost all stakeholders, which requires transgender women to suppress testosterone levels in their blood to below 10 nanomoles per liter for 12 months before they are eligible to compete in the female category.

The bad news (I’ve put the new guideline in bold):

Nevertheless, the new framework is flawed in at least three respects—flaws that the IOC must address if the organization is to demonstrate real leadership in this area. Until then, as others have emphasized, it will be playing catchup with international sports federations; absent proper IOC guidance, the latter will continue to set eligibility rules on their own initiative.

Firstly, while the IOC was correct to acknowledge that its under-10 rule was not fit for purpose, its vaguely worded replacement—the stipulation that an athlete shall not have an “advantage that disproportionately exceeds other advantages that exist at elite-level competition”—is effectively standardless, making it a litigator’s dream and an administrator’s nightmare. By its terms, every eligibility decision is subject to challenge by an excluded athlete, on the grounds that their governing sports federation can’t or hasn’t established that the performance boost they get from their male sex-linked traits “disproportionately exceeds” the boost that an exceptional female athlete gets from non-sex-linked traits such as flipper-feet or fast-twitch muscle fibers.

I won’t go into the other problems, which you can read for yourself, but they include the observation that athletes like Katie Ledecky or Simone Biles, who are biological females but perform “disproportionately over other competitors” could violate the rules. Well, we might ignore that, but Coleman and Navratiolva point out that mention of sex is nearly completely missing from the new IOC standards, which means, of course, that biological women might be excluded.

Further, how long do we have to wait for “proof of the obvious when it comes to genetic males ‘consistently’ outperforming genetic females in a ‘specific sport, discipline, or event'”? This means that just a simple declaration that your gender is female, given that you were born as a biological male, isn’t good enough. No, we need data to set standards.

And this is the issue I have, for what data can we collect that will enable us to set thresholds for transwomen to compete against biological women?  If you think about it, ideally you would like the transwoman asking to compete to have the same athletic capacities she would have had she been born a biological women. But we can never know that. All we can know is how the transwoman does now, and how can we judge that she has been sufficiently “handicapped” by the regulations that her competition is fair? Remember how difficult it is to even do the science to see what advantage puberty confers to a male who transitions later: there are so few of these individuals who have been subject to study!

I haven’t pondered this issue forever, but I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I’ve concluded that the science for which Coleman and Navratilova are waiting will never come. This is a philosophical and not a scientific problem, and it needs to be addressed now.

Readers, in the past, have offered two solutions:

a.) Have two categories for competition: “male and female”, as before, but transwomen cannot compete in  the “female” class Transmales, I presume, could be allowed to compete with biological males, as they are disadvantaged to begin with.

b.) Have three categories for competititon: “male, female, and other”. Again, one might allow transmen to compete against biological men.

The first has the disadvantage of preventing some prospective athletes from competing against anyone. The second has the disadvantage of stigmatizing those who fall into the “other” class.

I have nothing to offer about which alternative is better, but until the “other” class is constructed, or some unknown variety of science + philosophy can properly define a class of transwomen who could compete “fairly”, I favor not allowing transwomen to compete against biological women.  Although those in favor of transwomen competing with biological women (like the ACLU), even without treatment, sell their stand as promoting “fairness”, what about fairness to the biological women who lack the advantage of being born male? How do we weigh the fairnesses? Is disadvantaging 100 women justified by advantaging one transwoman?

I have no idea. This is one for philosophers to ponder, and instead of sticking in their ivory tower, some philosophers should be tackling real-world problems like this one. Believe me, it’s only going to get more pressing.

69 thoughts on “Coleman and Navratilova on transwomen in sports: The International Olympic Committee has failed its mission

  1. I’m sure they called Navratalova a TERF. I’m dismayed that this goes on and that it’s predominantly women who are demonized for it. You can’t say a woman is pregnant because you have to say a person is pregnant. If you say a woman is pregnant you will be called a TERF. You cannot get help from women’s health because it is about a person’s health. You don’t see these same issues happening with men. Men are not asked to give up terms that have worked well for them and if someone like me mentions this they are met with screams of TERF!!!! I know this is a bit of an aside from the athlete issue but there is a related element to how women are attacked when they disagree.

    1. I’m dismayed that this goes on and that it’s predominantly women who are demonized for it.

      Dismayed, but I bet not surprised. The cynics response to what’s going on in trans-in-sports discussions is to point out that however sincere and heartfelt the intent, the result seems to be – yet again – to ensure those of the male sex get society’s benefit of the doubt.

    2. Consider also how difficult it is to get accepted as a feminist by these people (with their purity tests and gatekeeping), unless you don‘t fully, wholeheartedly agree to every last bit of their orthodoxy — then you get a fast-track promotion to radical feminist (the RF of “TERF”). Odd.

      I know good, not retarded people, who genuinely use the term “TERF” in earnest, and also maintain that it isn’t a term of abuse. I now think some people can be partially retarded, but I haven’t minted an abbreviation yet.

    3. Diana, I completely agree with you. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called a TERF when I insist on using the words woman and women. The levels of narcissism, entitlement, and fury of the tiny minority screaming this ideology astound and sicken me. If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, go on Twitter or YouTube and use “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant people” or “person with a uterus” and see what happens.

    4. There’s a well-known on-line news and opinion forum called “The Daily Kos” that claims to be progressive. These “progressives” recently they gave me a mojo rating of “poisonous”, shown by a skull-and-crossbones symbol, for commenting that only women can get pregnant. I was responding to language in a Daily Kos article that referred to “pregnant people”. Other readers were allowed to denounce me as a “TERF”, while my replies have been permanently barred.

  2. One solution I can think of the resolve this conundrum is to allow trans athletes to perform as women, but simply put an asterisk by their name so that there is the potential for two “winners”.

    1. And some female rugby players will die from being hit or tackled by men playing on the other team. Asterisks won’t change that.

  3. The philosophical error is a gross violation of epistemological integrity: the conflation of ‘sex’ and ‘gender” by definition.

    An insistence that qualification be strictly on sex would end the problem. What is your sex at birth. Period. Your XX/XY gene expression. Your reproductive anatomy*. [NOT you level of hormones, as that can be forced to contradict your sex.]

    Those who wish their construction of gender – including any alteration by surgery and/or radical chemical transformation – to take primacy of the objective reality of their sex at birth, especially by law, must be firmly and consistently opposed. Most crucial: any attempt to merge gender and sex must be vehemently denied on epistemological/philosophical grounds. Sex is sex; gender is whatever.

    *Those born with ambiguous sexual organs are not exempt: they are either male of female in primacy. If there were an actual perfectly dual sexual expression, those persons would be able to impregnate themselves.

    1. I agree very much with this framing of the whole situation. There is no such thing as a transmale – one can’t change one’s sex in the same way that a human can’t become a transcat. The women and men categories in sport reflect your sex, not your gender. Conflation of the two is the root of all this debate.

      1. Notice that adhering strictly to the definition of sex does not block any human from declaring an identity, preference in bed, or gender. Have at it. Express. But don’t claim it IS your sex.

      2. Yes, and sex at birth has been a category that worked throughout sports history up until the past decade or two when the gender/sex semantic debate happened.

    2. I share John’s overall emphasis on sex here but the details are complex. There are rare human hermaphrodites with both testis and ovary tissue. The chromosomal makeup, external genitalia, and gonad development is highly variable among these rare cases.

      In a case of a boy with normal external genitalia (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1399-0004.1987.tb02802.x), one gonad was an ovary and one was a testis, but it was the *ovary* that had descended into the scrotum; that person had a mosaic karyotype that differed among cells and tissues (some cells XX, some XY, some XXY), so was neither male nor female by karyotype, and instead was both male and female by gonad type.

      Other hermaphrodites have a typical XX karyotype, others are XY (for example DOI 10.1046/j.1440-1754.2000.00432.x), so could be readily classified as male and female on that basis, but are both male and female in the way that matters (each gonad is an ovotestis, with some ovary tissue and some testis tissue mixed together in the same organ).

      These hermaphroditic humans have ambiguous genitalia (neither very masculine nor very feminine), so their conditions can be mistaken for other kinds of differences in sex development (e.g., the runner Caster Semenya who has undescended testes leading to a high testosterone titre, but has a DSD that led to somewhat feminine genitalia and upbringing as a girl).

      This isn’t surprising because many other species (not in mammals, but in many other groups of animals) have both male and female individuals but sex is not determined by sex chromosomes (sex chromosomes are adaptations, not definitions of the sexes).

      Hermaphrodites in some mammal species can self-fertilize, but self-fertilization never been reported in humans (DOI 10.1080/14767058.2017.1291619).

      1. To my knowledge Castra Semenya has never consented to the general release of her medical history, nor should she. Any speculation is from egregiously unethical leaks. It’s only tangentially relevant to the trans controversy.

        True hermaphroditism is exceedingly rare in humans. What used to be called the misleading “pseudo hermaphroditism” covers a broad range of unrelated disorders. Some people have typical appearing female external genitalia while others have ambiguous appearance at birth. Others can change (alarmingly) at puberty. Most people are perfectly healthy and don’t consider themselves “patients” unless they or parents request diagnosis for delayed or abnormal puberty.

        The category of “Differences in Sexual Development” becomes important in elite sport where their eligibility to compete as women is challenged, for example in testing for testosterone doping. While eligibility here, and in the trans controversy, revolves around testosterone levels—incorrectly in both, in my view, except if doping is proven—I think the issues are so widely separated that drawing parallels confuses both issues. Advocacy groups for people with intersex conditions (what DSD is called outside the sporting world) take this view also.

        The sports governing bodies determined that Ms Semenya wasn’t cheating and her mum says she raised her as a girl without any doubt about what she was. That’s good enough for me. If she had an adult male body, someone (bitter and spiteful about her success) who had seen her in a locker room would surely have outed her by now.

      2. @Leslie MacMillan and Mike,

        Teasing out the nuance in these cases might have its place, although eliminating false and ridiculous pretenders to the condition might be most of the work. Rejecting those, science is correct in making a determination on the remainder that, while merging toward the middle, each can yet be declared to be one or the other sex.

        Additionally, there is zero justification for activists to argue that presenting the handful of remaining extremely “close” non-sexually-binary cases justifies an absolute truth claim that “Sex is socially constructed.” Or “a personal choice.”

        Meanwhile, the minuscule number of instances in a body of 8-billion Homo Sapiens on the planet actually proves the general case that sex is binary, objectively identifiable, and solid.

    3. “Those who wish their construction of gender … to take primacy of the objective reality of their sex at birth, especially by law, must be firmly and consistently opposed.”

      Your words express exactly the millennia-old conflict between those who seek, even against their own native human biases, to understand reality as it is, and those who insist that their beliefs and wishes define reality, as “postmodern” thinkers have proven to do. The struggle between science and sophistry, if you will. A willingness to be proven wrong, to find out that nature is messier and more nuanced than one would like, is characteristic of the former, and not the latter.

      1. Lee, yes, it is called “objectivity.” It is — or at least once was — the primary sine qua non of science and law.

        We are in trouble when the insistence on objectivity as the root principle is ‘cancelled’ at the outset of an interaction.

  4. My son actually presented a research project for his “Dual Enrollment Biology” course this week based on actual research done on transgender people. I was quite impressed with how deeply he delved into this subject with regard to the research out there, especially since science is not his main interest. I look at transgenders in sports in a new light since reading his project.

  5. I suggest a two-category system which is: “open” and “female by sex.” The open category should be explicitly welcoming to athletes of both sexes and all genders. It’s important not to call this “male+” or treat it as “male+” because it really isn’t a ‘male’ category. It’s open. This would not just address the need for sports to welcome trans people, it would solve old issues of sexism that should already be non-problems (but due to sexism, remain). The classic example being Lindsey Vonn requesting and being denied the chance to compete against men for several years running (during her career). Why? That makes no sense at all, except to preserve a ‘male’ category notion. Get rid of it. The category is Open. Cis men welcome. Cis women welcome. Trans men and women welcome. The ‘female by sex’ category is maintained separately in recognition of the real biological differences between males and females (sex), and also in recognition of the real impact the lack of this category is emprically demonstrated to have on women’s opportunities to enjoy, participate, and excel in sports. Someone complains that that’s not mirror-parity? Well guess what, life didn’t make the sexes mirror-parity.

    I also want a pony.

    1. +1. By far the best solution proposed. Think I first was exposed to it watching Noel Plum on YouTube. He has some really good videos on the topic of transwomen in sports.

      1. Won‘t work, because “transwomen are women” and thus get to compete in the “female by sex” category, because sex follows gender. Who cares what sex one was assigned at birth?

        Sic transit gloria mundi.

        1. Of course some people will use that argument. No solution will please everyone. Pointing out that someone’s not going to be happy is not a valid argument on it’s own since that’s going to be true of all solutions.

          This one attempts to strike a balance between social acceptance of trans identity (trans women are not forced to compete in a “mens” league – they compete in an Open league, alongside other women who do so too), and sex differences.

          A similar idea is to dissociate both leagues from gender altogether. Both leagues include men and women. Call them Brown and Green, or Cat and D*g, or Slytherin and Hufflepuff for all I care. One league is for both men and women genders originating in male sex, and the other is for men and women genders originating in female sex.

          1. It’s more fundamental than that some people will be unhappy. It just won’t work. The born-men who now claim to be women will insist on being allowed to compete in the Women-by-Sex category that affirms their true identities. This will undermine your whole segregating structure. The born-men-now-women will refuse to compete in the Open category because, for practical purposes, all the competitors there will be men, plus maybe a few extraordinarily gifted women. “No other woman has to compete there, why should we be stigmatized?” The whole point of born-men competing as women is to clean up in the medals, right? They already know they can’t compete in an Open field — that would defeat their whole purpose.

            So your real task is to figure out what to do with all those born-men who show up at the start line for the women’s events because you won’t be able to stop them. When they filled out their application forms they indicated “female” as their sex or gender or whatever woke term the sponsor of the meet felt compelled to use. Do they have to tell you they are trans? Do they have to do anything to reduce their male-puberty advantage? Do they have to take androgen blockers? What dose? For how long? “Other women don’t have to. Why should we have to?” And even if they did, does that level the playing field with the born-women? How can you tell? If all the strong women beat them, does that mean it was level? Or did they give away too much advantage?

            Your two-category segregation goes in the wrong direction from the inclusivity standpoint. At the high-school and “participatory” level (where all shall have prizes), the whole trans-advocacy movement is to encourage all kids to play on the teams that match their self-identified gender. No testing, vetting, or drug-taking required, except what the kid takes for his/her own gender affirmation goals The Human Rights Commissions will make mincemeat out of a school that made a born-male trans kid play on a boys/”open” team.

            This is why the philosophers have to get on the case. What is a woman, in the situations where there are externalities in the determination, like women’s sports and prisons and leaders for Girl Guide campouts and the military draft? The bathrooms are just the tip of the iceberg.

            1. I don’t think philosophers will have any better luck convincing people of what a woman is than anybody else.

    2. You’ll need some thought given to what ‘female by sex’ means, as there are developmental disorders that result in women having lots of testosterone eg adrenogenital syndrome. Neither the karyotype definition of a female, nor the large gamete definition would exclude thse women who would have an unfair advantage. I recognise that no rules for entry into women’s sports has ever taken that into account in the past, but while we are trying to be fair, to allow a level playing field, as it were, we might as well do our best.
      BTW, I find hard to believe there are WEIT regulars who would refuse to read anything at Quillette, but if the Boss here is aware it is so, then it must be so. That’s just silly of them.

    3. I subscribe to your proposal, but you have christened the unopened category with a transphobic expression. It would be better to call it “non-brain sex women”, since trans women have a female brain sex (that’s why trans women are women).

        1. Sorry for my bad English. I was not trying to make a satire.

          A trans woman is a woman because she has a female brain even though her gonads are male. Perhaps the category that trans women could not fit into should be called “athletes lacking male gonads.”

          1. That would be a workable category and easy to adjudicate in the locker room.

            >A trans woman is a woman because . . .

            If she is an athlete she could also be a 100% XY male-bodied, male-brained dude who just wants to win a big race for the first time in his life. If we can’t examine his claim to have a female brain we can’t tell if he’s gaming the system.

            I’m waiting for this swimmer to be a gentleman and admit he was pulling an absurdist scam here just to yank the chains of the woke. He should ‘fess up and return the medals.

            1. Neither the swimmer Lia Thomas nor any other trans woman can claim to have the right to enter the sports category restricted to “athletes born without male gonads.”

      1. There is no such thing as a “female brain”. There is no science behind that claim. The existence of a “female brain”, of course necessarily more feeble than a “male brain”, was long used to justify why women were legally subordinate to men and denied opportunity. I am open to scientific examination of possible differences between the sexes. I am not open to pseudoscience taking us back in time to the bad old days when people believed in a “female brain.”

        1. If the homosexual brain exists, then it is reasonable to assume that the female brain also exists. For example, on YouTube you can see the case of the trans girl Kai Shappley. The most plausible hypothesis is to accept that Kai has a female brain, which of course is neither superior nor inferior to any other variety of brain.

          1. Big if.

            I watched Kai on YouTube. He’s a boy with long hair. He reads a script well. I bet he’ll be different at puberty. Of course, his parents won’t let him have puberty. Oh well. Can’t save everyone.

            1. If you think homosexuality is not biological, then from whom do you think gay Saudis learn to be gay?

              Notice what Richard Dawkins replied to a homophobic woman in this video (“Richard Dawkins Versus Homophobic Christians”, 1:53): “There is no evidence that, as you say, you have a choice about being gay or not”

              1. Off topic. This thread is about trans athletes, not the biological basis of trans-ness or homosexuality. Nothing further to say.

  6. This just reinforces my opinion that we should not segregate by sex in the first place. I don’t worry about which people of which ethnic background are statistically less likely to play NBA basketball. The same should apply to genitalia, hormones, and chromosomes. Some background factors present a statistical disadvantage.

      1. Forget women’s sports AND men’s sports, just like we forgot the white baseball league and the negro league. Enjoy the sports for what they are. Segregated sports are just another form of quotas and affirmative action. I strongly recommend reading Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron to see what happens when sports are ‘perfectly’ balanced to account for statistical strengths and weaknesses.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron

        1. This view of the reasons behind our dividing sports into men’s and women’s teams is naïve. No, it’s not like racial discrimination. Look at the records. And it’s not even close to a Harrison Bergeron analogy, which will be dragged out to justify removing the “handicaps” preventing men from winning all the prizes while women’s protests are shouted down.

          1. Both sex segregation and racial segregation are protectionist measures; some groups have lost out since racial desegregation, the same way certain groups will lose out after sexual deseg. We can still keep non-race/non-sex tiers together (major leagues and minor leagues, AAA teams, etc.) just like other sports have multiple weight classes (boxing has eight!).

            1. The main point, o rueful anonymous one, is that racial segregation was instituted to disadvantage a race while sexual segregation was instituted to benefit a sex.

              Whether sexual segregation is still needed depends on the culture. Many or even most public toilets in Sweden are not separate, so the whole idea of expressing your sexual identity by where you use the toilet (a bizarre concept in itself) won’t cut it there. In much of Europe, public saunas are mixed sex with nudity required. Safety in the changing room isn’t an issue. (Of course, insisting on separate facilities for men and women assumes that gays and lesbians don’t care or are not worth worrying about.)

            2. Out of complete emphasis of performance base only, you are talking about relegating 50% of the population to be benchwarmers by virtue of their not having testicular tissue. Little girls will grow up being told that they can’t get that far in most physical sports, like it was in the ’50s’. And some 50% of sporting events (those with women leagues) would go “poof” along with it.

            3. Racial sports segregation protected the dominant group from being contaminated by a physically equivalent though despised subordinate group.
              Sexual sports segregation protects a subordinate group from being oppressed by a physically advantaged dominant group.
              Not the same.

            4. “Multiple weight classes”

              One would still have trouble justifying putting a flyweight male and a flyweight female in the same UFC cage together.

        2. I’m not sure how this might work. Should people who wish to create a sports league for women and those who wish to participate in them be legally denied the right to do so?

          All you have to do is look at the numbers. They very clearly show that there are very significant differences between males and females in physical performance. What you suggest would without out any doubt result in denying the large majority of females meaningful participation in sports.

          Harrison Bergeron does not apply. For one, it is fiction. And having separate leagues for women is not remotely ‘perfectly’ balancing things to account for statistical strengths and weaknesses.

          1. > Should people who wish to create a sports league for women and those who wish to participate in them be legally denied the right to do so?

            There is certainly legal precedent to deny them, just as a lot of white-only social clubs/country clubs/sporting associations were racially desegregated. The Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution was stretched to grant the federal government a significant amount of desegregation power in the private sector. That said, the feds have left a lot of leeway allowing for sexual and racial discrimination in the entertainment industry (a man couldn’t sue for the right to play a female character, even though it is discriminatory). In short: sexual segregation in sports is currently legal, but there is sufficient precedent that it does not have to remain so.

            1. My question is, is that what you are advocating for? You don’t see the very real differences between the realities of racism vs female sports? There are very significant real differences between these two things. I think you are quite wrong about there being sufficient precedent to make women’s sports illegal.

    1. I have long agreed with this position in principle, but the cat is already out of the bag, so we’re stuck with trying to come to a solution by adjusting what we already have in place.

      A just solution is difficult. If we disallowed all performance enhancement in sport, we would have to reject the use of high-tech shoes or modern high-performance skis. But given that we allow some human artifice, which we do, where do we stop? How are performance enhancing drugs different from performance enhancing conditioning—such as high-altitude training? Both are techniques designed to produce physiological changes that allow humans to jump higher and run faster. If we allow some techniques designed to produce physiological changes that improve performance, why not allow drugs or surgeries that alter the abilities of women to run faster than their female competitors or that alter the abilities of men to perform better in sports traditionally dominated by women?

      There seem to be no bright lines here. Any convention that we adopt will make a lot of people unhappy.

  7. Paul Viminitz, a professor of philosophy at U Lethbridge calls this a category error: freedom to choose is being confused with freedom to be. He has come out of the ivory tower and says that if biological men are allowed to compete in women’s sports, there will become just two categories: “men” and “freaks”. The only people who will pay to watch what used to be called women’s sports will be those who like to watch freak shows, like professional wrestling. I point out that will require a whole rethinking of the positioning of corporate sponsorship: chewing tobacco instead of Lululemon.

  8. It seems grotesquely misogynistic to me, and if so it should be called that without equivocation and opposed without “compromise.”

  9. And what I think I have come to realise, the biggest thing for me, is just that the level of difficulty that trans people go through cannot be underestimated. The fight for equality and recognition is just huge.

    The trans fight for “equality and recognition” is huge because, unlike homosexuality, cross-dressing, and gender-nonconformity, the trans person isn’t just fighting for basic rights of non discrimination in jobs, housing, and service. They’re fighting to redefine our understanding of biological categories, and of feminism. They’re struggling to replace sex, which, though it includes developmental abnormalities, is well understood, with “gender,” an ill-defined concept related to some sort of internal awareness which has no known test, but relies on trusting that what people tell you is not only accurate, but socially and scientifically meaningful.

    And the ideology challenges a feminism battling against the male exploitation of female sex-based differences with a feminism focused on ensuring that those women “privileged” with a gender identity that matches their body don’t oppress those women disadvantaged by being born m*le.

    If transwomen are simply a type of woman in the same way a black, tall, or blond woman is a type of woman, then no special rule to ensure athletic “fairness” will ever stick. It would be like penalizing women born with talent. And if transwomen are instead a type of man, allowing them to join women’s teams out of something very much like pity won’t stick either, since women’s march towards equal rights has had to overcome the feminine ideal of the self-sacrificing Good Girl who gladly renounces earned benefits for the sake of kindly helping others (particularly male others.)

    I agree that the best solution is having two sports categories: Open and Female. But that won’t provide any sort of victory in the fight for trans “equality and recognition.” It’s a compromise offered to those with an ideological commitment which brooks no compromise. One side or the other will win.

    1. We already have Open and Female. In the NCAA meet that Lia Thomas swam at, the Men’s category is Open to all. The problem was that Thomas was allowed to swim with the Females. And beat them all. Everyone in the sports world knows he isn’t a woman, particularly the women who busted their guts at swimming practice all those years. It’s only the trans-rights advocates who want the world to think otherwise. They only care about themselves.

  10. Among the two solutions offered, it seems to me that choice (a) is the best choice, and its problem is really not a problem. Let trans women compete with men if they want to compete in elite sports. It removes all complications of unfair performance advantage, and they don’t even need to have surgery or hormonal therapy.
    The problem stated is that this will exclude some transwomen from competing. But that is true for all varieties of humans who aspire to elite sports. Most people don’t get anywhere near that level. Caitlyn Jenner is a reasonable example of how this could work out rather well for the trans women athlete.

  11. In sports, as in life, there should be an “open” category, in which anyone can compete. If some group, like women or residents of Piscataway or boxers under a certain weight, want to have their own competition with restricted admission, then all the power to them and they can make whatever rules they like.

    I expect most women in elite sports would want to let trans-women compete against them. But if they want to, that should be their decision.

    1. So do you propose that *all* – or just a few – women in an elite sport need to agree to allow transwomen into that sport at ‘high’ (national/international) competition?
      How would that be decided? Would there need to be a vote before every event? Majority rules?
      How about if the most likely medal contenders don’t want transwomen competing in their category?
      Do you anticipate ‘most women’ in a sport like weightlifting would be OK with transwomen being included in the ‘female’ category when they are increasingly taking most or all of the medal places at the elite level?

  12. It would be a good idea to go back to Square 1 and ask, Why do we have women’s athletics in the first place? For really little kids it’s about co-ed participation, giving a taste of what competition and mastery (and losing, if you were me, who still profited from the life lessons) feel like, and some talent spotting. As children get older we sex-segregate them for reasons most likely parent-driven and boys never play against girls after that, although they may occasionally have a talented girl on a boys’ team. With puberty most of the boys can, for the first time and forever after, beat all but the most gifted girls in the higher, faster, stronger events. And that’s that.

    So now what? Women formed women’s athletics leagues and governing organizations because competing among themselves at a lower level less interesting to the paying public gave them something valuable. I think we should ask them what they think they might lose (or gain) if an also-ran male athlete can cross over and win everything when he swims against women. Who knows? Having him on your relay team would be sweet. Against the complaints of the other teams, even a woman might find herself saying, ”Trans-women are women (when they swim for us.) There is no debate. Get over it!”

  13. I’m in favour of letting things run its course. Let trans women compete as women, and trans men compete as men. I assume, there will be lots turbulences around categories. For instance, would trans men really identify as men if they are also top athletes, ruining their career? Are they compelled to switch over? When, exactly, must a trans person switch? Is the transition an official one-time event, or can someone count as trans in private, but remain in their “assigned at birth” sports categories etc?

    I have no cock in this fight, and found watching sports the epitome of wasting one’s lifetime, with the exception of a few big (social) sport events. But I wouldn’t want to miss the hilarity emanating from transferring half-baked tumblr/twitter slogans into fair policy. I don’t envy the task, though. Let’s eliminate cis-women from the top positions in every sports category, and sit back as peak “social justice” is achieved. This sounds pretty funny to me, and especially how advocates and opinion leaders will spin it over time, as cis-women will become a rarity.

    If I would care, I’d say that cis-women categories were created to enable competition among cis-women, and that cis-womenhood was just a quick, common, easy way to allow people to participate in a somewhat fair way. Once such categories are carelessly wiped away — and yes they are — sports will probably be based on medicinal metrics, routine blood tests and categories more like boxing. Moving oneself into an optimal category with hormones and future bio-engineering will be the norm, thus enabling a kind of medicinal meta-game. Maybe it will resemble Cold War era sports again.

  14. “How do we weigh the fairnesses? Is disadvantaging 100 women justified by advantaging one transwoman?”

    These sorts of questions, even if not specifically about transgenderism, have been asked and addressed at length by many generations of scholars in the field of moral philosophy. But one notable fact about the “postmodern” scholars is how little they are informed by scholarship that preceded theirs. With nary a regret they write off vast bodies of human scholarship as the work of “old dead white males”. They claim to have “seen though” traditions they have never actually seen, much less understood.

  15. Stop playing the game by the rules made up by crazy people.

    Much like we don’t use gender to determine pronouns, we also don’t use gender for sports. We use sex. End of story. You compete based on being male or female, not whatever gender you feel like at the moment.

    We don’t need to figure out new rules for trans because being trans isn’t applicable to sports.

Leave a Reply